Sport has a unique way of uniting people, igniting friendships, and changing lives. When we met in 2011, Patrick had been invited by Glenn to speak at a forum for athletes at the University of Denver. Glenn and Patrick had mutual friends. Brian showed up at the invitation of Glenn, who he’d known while working for the Avalanche and while Glenn was working with GForce Sports. Without much discussion other than hockey small talk, but with a real determination, we began a year-long process to leverage what we know about sports, and what we felt about what is right, into You Can Play.
Along the way, we’ve been able to choose our teammates and they’ve chosen us – men and women to whom we owe tremendous gratitude. Some of their efforts have been great assists, some have been jaw-dropping game changers. We thank them all.
In particular are “the firsts” – those who decided to play based on hearing about a vision. Bobby Clark at the Gill Foundation thought our ideas were interesting because straight athletes could deliver a message that could signal real change. Raising funds is the most difficult aspect of any type of advocacy and without Bobby’s help and the gentle advice of Tim Sweeney and Katherine Peck, we wouldn’t have made it to first base. Yes, there will be more sports metaphors. Their support provided the start for the You Can Play Project.
Tommy Wingels and Andy Miele, friends of Brendan Burke’s from the Miami University hockey team, were rookie players with the San Jose Sharks and Phoenix Coyotes organizations, respectively. They easily could have gone big time and never looked back. Instead, they became the first guys to write checks to You Can Play. The first non-pro athletes to chip in are some of the most important people in Brian’s life, Dr. Steve Ross and Dr. Ryan Antolini.
Miami University head hockey coach Rico Blasi signed on early to the advisory board – and then stood by us to speak at the American Hockey Coaches Association meetings about the importance of every team member performing at capacity. Opinion makers like John Buccigross did the same. We have a diverse bunch of advisors and we’re proud to be associated with them.
Kevin Jennings is an accomplished advocate for equality and he didn’t see You Can Play as just another new project. Instead, he contacted former athletes Jim Rogers at the Colin Higgins Foundation and Terrence Meck at the Palette Fund. It’s our absolute honor to thank Kevin, Jim and Terrence.
The nuts and bolts of putting an organization are ugly, but the work is often pretty. Kristen Wilson, baby in tow, provided the logo work. Blake Struhs, cute fiancé in tow, provided stationery and graphics templates. The legal artistry has come from Brandon Shevin. There aren’t words to describe what Michael Fisher at Blue State Digital was put through and we are truly indebted. His colleagues Thaddeus Kromelis, Alia Hassan, Blaise Nutter and Sarah Tan did things we will never understand but always appreciate. And, thanks to Samantha Papadakis and Thomas Gensemer for their leadership. This is probably also a good place to recognize the artistry of Craig Brownstein, Michael Hartt, Mitzi Emrich, Robert Discher and the crew at Edelman. Publicity is an art and this team is masterful. Additionally, there are organizational leaders who have let us in on their worlds and provide advice:
The Film Guys
Yes, on one of the biggest NHL weekends of the year, we asked a bunch of already busy people, including the staff at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, to drop everything and help us film a bunch of hockey all-stars in Ottawa. Rick Mercer made calls across Canada and Trevor Pilling from CBC and his staff pulled it off. In New York and Philadelphia, HBO’s early and important commitment set a major league standard and for that we thank Bentley Weiner, Joe Levin, Brett Janecek and Dennis Williams and their teams. As this is posted, an award-winning group at Zerosun in Denver is animating work and creating a convergence between art, sport and respect.
The Hockey Players and What’s Next
Did we ever doubt we could get one player from each team in the NHL to step up for respect in sports? Maybe, but not for long. In spite of the reality of locker room homophobia, and in spite of mid-season name calling while this project was in play, at heart these are men who care about their teammates. Asked by Brian and Patrick Burke, one by one, the NHL players – captains, Olympians and all-stars among them – stepped in front of cameras. Some spoke of the need for the image of athletes to change. Some showed up unannounced to film in Ottawa. Cal Clutterbuck and Brooks Orpik – the first to volunteer – were filmed before or after skates during team trips to Denver. Their kindness and good humor through these sessions are debts that truly can’t be repaid.
Hey, Teale – thanks for everything. The former University of Denver soccer goalkeeper took on college programming while looking for a job after graduation. His honest assessment of our plans has been extraordinarily helpful. So is that of the men and women to whom we’ve spoken at schools in Colorado, Ohio and Massachusetts. Straight or gay, you’re the reason we do this and the reason we’re confident in our success. Thank you.
And, thank you in advance to the athletes – lacrosse players, rowers, gymnasts, skiers, and others – who are about to step up and challenge athletic stereotypes. You will make a difference.
The Biggest Players
Finally, you don’t always get to choose the players on your team, and sometimes that’s for the best. We didn’t choose our families, but each of us is tremendously fortunate. We may have told our brothers and sisters they couldn’t play, but we didn’t mean it and we adore them. Whether they’ve worn hockey helmets, golf caps or cowboy hats, our dads are our heroes. In Boston, Philadelphia and Albuquerque, we know our moms – the ones who drove us to hockey, swim and soccer practice – love us without reservation.
For all of this, and the chance to do this work, we’re thankful.
Patrick Brian Glenn